The Next Christians
The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Gabe Lyons; ©2010 by Doubleday Religion) Gabe Lyons is among those who believes that the Christian church is in the midst of tremendous change. In particular, during the research that preceded his previous book (Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity ... and Why It Matters; ©2007 by Baker Books), he noted there is an entire generation of Americans whose impression of the Christian Church is predominantly negative.
An overwhelming percentage of non-Christians sampled said they perceived Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and antihomosexual, among other things. In the truest sense, the research revealed what happens when Christians act unchristian. (p. 4).
If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing. (p. 11)
I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered. Restorers exhibit the mind-set, humility, and commitment that seem destined to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. (p. 47)
God’s story is made up of four key parts: creation, fall, redemption, restoration (and ultimately consumation). The truncated Gospel that is often recounted is faithful to the fall and redemption pieces of the story, but largely ignores the creation and restoration components. These missing elements are at the heart of what a new generation of Christians are relearning, and subsequently, retelling. (pp. 51-52).
The next Christians believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world. Here, now, today, tomorrow. They no longer feel bound to wait for heaven or spend all of their time telling people what they should believe. Instead, they are participating with God in his restoration project for the whole world. (p. 53)
The six characteristics that set apart the next Christians are that they are Provoked, not offended Creators, not critics Called, not employed Grounded, not distracted In community, not alone Countercultural, not “relevant” (p. 67)
He describes each of these characteristics in detail — the first two are summarized in the following excerpt. Restorers are both provoked by their faith (his language here is reminiscent of Hebrews 10:24), and inspired to act on what their faith calls them to do. It is not a group that is content to sit idly by and talk about the faith (nor do they care for it when others do the same), but they feel compelled to do something that makes a difference.
While being provoked is an important characteristic of restorers, no one solves anything from merely showing up. That is why the next Christians are provoked to do something when they arrive on the cultural scene—namely to create culture that can inspire change. They create organizations, services, and goods—art, films, music, campaigns, projects, media, churches, and businesses—anything that incarnates Christ and communicates the restoration that’s possible. In this way, creating sits at the heart of restoration. (p. 93)
The next Christians are desperately searching for their calling. It serves well not only them but also those whom God wants to reach and serve through them. And this doesn’t mean that their calling will always be a full-time job, as nice as that would be. For some, being a stay-at-home mother is the place where their talents and heart converge, and for others, their calling is found in service to their neighbors or local community or public school in a volunteer capacity. (p. 124)
The next Christians must beware that operating in the center of the world requires a deep anchoring in Christ, a grounding that’s achieved only through means unbecoming to most. Otherwise, it hardly ever works. (p. 130)
THE NEXT CHRISTIANS try to create the most good for all people, regardless of race, class, or religion. Christians shouldn’t strive for what’s best only in their own community of believers, though that’s important. They should concentrate on the benefit of all people in God’s creation whether or not they share our values, ethnicity, or religion. (p. 184)
For the next Christians, this is predominantly how they are seeing the church spread in the West. They show up with a restoration view, create solutions to the problems their communities face, and gently respond when spiritual conversations arise among their friends. (pp. 194-195).
Questions for Saint Peter Lutheran Church:
- What it is about our congregation that turns off young people? How might we reorder our life together to change this?
- Lyons describes a community of believers with a deep passion for Christ -- a passion rooted in their experience of the Gospel. Does the way we live out the Gospel together transform us? Inspire us? "Provoke" us?
- If there is a generation of young believers in this country who are aching for concrete ways to become involved in God's work, are we providing opportunities for them to do that at Saint Peter? Do we have as deep of a commitment to affecting the world around us as we do to maintaining the organization of our own church?